16th February 1924

Birth of concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houedard

Dom Sylvester Houedard was a poet and monk, born in Guernsey this day in 1924. He was actually born Pierre-Thomas-Paul Joesph, but by the time he enrolled at Elizabeth College had adopted the name Peter.

He was evacuated to Britain in 1940 and spent the last few months of the Second World War – and until 1947 – working in British Army Intelligence. In that capacity, he took posts in India, Sri Lanka and Singapore where he developed an interest in what would become known as concrete poetry. More on that in a moment.

Poet, monk and priest

In the meantime, he joined the Benedictine Abbey of Prinknash, Gloucestershire, in 1949, and was ordained ten years later. He was literary editor of the Jerusalem Bible, and was often known by just his lower-case initials, dsh.

He’s best known for the concrete poetry he created on his Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter. This is a form of poetry in which the layout is of at least equal importance to the words themselves. His work earned him several famous followers, including Yoko Ono.

His interest in making poetic art with a manual typewriter emerged in India. Here, he “realised the typewriter’s control of verticals and horizontals… offered possibilities that suggested the grading of Islamic calligraphy from cursive writing…”

In 1965 he founded the Association of Little Presses and, in 1967, the Gloucestershire Ode Construction Company.

Art vs poetry

It’s difficult to say where his work sits on the division between poetry and visual art. The Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum in London held a retrospective of his work in 1971.

He produced the majority of his work before the mid-1970s when his fame started bringing unwanted attention to the monastery. At that point, he took a step back. He refocused on religion and spent the last ten years of his life as an infirmarian.

He died, aged 67, on 15 January 1992. The following year, Prinknash Abbey gave his papers to the John Ryland Library on permanent loan.


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Other events that occured in February

Mail ship wrecked on Black Rock 1st
Oil rig stranded at Grandes Rocques
Birth of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann 2nd
Death of Sir Charles Hayward 3rd
St Martin’s parish church consecrated 4th
Guernsey suffers its worst storm in 35 years 5th
Guernsey watchmaker helps Stone of Scone manhunt 6th
Guernsey Language Commission formed 7th
Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings 8th
Guernsey gets its first postbox
Guernsey Society celebrates its 70th anniversary 9th
Guernsey’s last execution didn’t go according to plan 10th
The last issue of GUNS was distributed 11th
Alderney gets its first full-time radio station 12th
Guernsey’s last duel 13th
Specsavers’ Mary Perkins was born 14th
Blue Islands takes to the skies
Guernsey gets its own flag 15th
Birth of concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houedard 16th
HMS Guernsey launched in Aberdeen 17th
Guernsey’s first Methodist minister arrives 18th
Aurigny Air Services founded 19th
Guernsey Railway Company runs its first services 20th
The Channel Islands were cut off from the outside world 21st
St Sampson was ordained a bishop 22nd
Death of Thomas Fiott de Havilland 23rd
Murder inquiry ends with suicide 24th
Death of occupation resister Marie Ozanne 25th
Guernsey’s first banker dies 26th
Release of Reverend Harry Samuel 27th
Plans for St Sampson power station approved 28th
Second World War bomb detonated 29th